“On average, the savings from using just automatic section control are about 4.4 percent. So if you’re spending $100,000 on your pesticide bill, multiply that by 4.4 percent, and the technology probably will pay for itself in one year.

“In most cases in Alabama, whether you’re growing cotton, corn, soybeans or peanuts, the payback period is less than two years. The cutoff for the payback has been 800 to 1,000 acres, if you have your own sprayers and you’re doing your own work. The worst-case scenario is that it takes maybe two years to pay off the technology, but that’s the extreme case, where you have nothing in the sprayer and you have to buy the controller, GPS receiver and everything to automate it.”

Savings can total up to about $20 per acre for some producers, says Fulton.

As researchers have worked with sprayers and automatic section control, they’ve learned some key things, he says. “The big thing when you start to integrate some of this technology is to make sure the controller is set up correctly. Make sure the flow-meter values are calibrated properly and ensure the valve control number is set up properly.”

There’s a difference, says Fulton, between a driver and an operator. “If you’re not doing it yourself, make sure your driver is an operator — that’s key to the success of some of this technology and to your herbicide treatment programs.”

It’s also important to consider the products and their labels, he says. “When we talk about mixing and matching products, I get concerned, especially about dry products. They become hidden in these machines very quickly if you let them sit.”

Growers also should clean spray booms, says Fulton. When you move from 90 to 100 to 120-foot booms, there’s a lot more hose involved. “There could be more hose with a bend in it, giving a place for some of these products to hide. Cleaning out hoses is as important as anything you do at the end of the day.”

Some sprayers used during research, he says, did not have a visible pressure gauge on them. “I encourage growers to have a visible pressure gauge on the machine. We saw wide ranges in pressure in some cases, and this increases the risk of drift.”

Drain time is another important factor, he says. “When I come to the end of a field, whether I’m manually hitting it or using automatic section control technology, how long does the product drip out when I’m turning around? There are some products out there and some valving that would allow you to capture some savings, because just three or four seconds of drain time can be quite a bit.”